Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


view:  full / summary


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)

That's it. That's all there is to say.

The last couple nights it was too dusty to see well, but tonight it rained just before nightfall. There are more stars than sky. I'm going to have to learn to sleep while I work in the day because it's not worth missing this.

Before I left I talked with a woman who had worked in Africa, and asked her if she could tell me just one thing what she would say. "Africa is intense. On both sides of the spectrum. There's suffering and things so beautiful they'll take your breath away, all mixed up together."

She was right.

Maternity Day 3

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (0)

We went to the hospital today (Saturday) to help out with their World Blood Donor Day program, but everything here is on GMT (Gambia Maybe Time), so a couple of people went to maternity. I was busy playing soccer with some kids, but at some point a group member came running out yelling for the head of the hospital. I went in to see what was going on and found a woman who looked nearly delirious lying naked on the ground. Two nurses picked her up by her feet and shoulders, put her back on the table and held her there. Someone told me that she had been pushing for two hours and they had tried the vacuum without success. The group member was stroking her and letting her squeeze her hand, and another group member's face was blank in a way that worried me.

The head of the hospital came in, examined her, and said that she had preeclampsia and the baby's head was too big for her pelvis. He called for an ambulance to transfer her to Banjul for a cesarean. The group member went with her, and the rest of us went to finish with the blood drive.

That night I asked the group member what had happened before we arrived. The rough nurse is apparently not the only person who will pump a woman's uterus and do other forceful procedures that are not allowed in the US. When the woman's labor did not progress, the women in the maternity ward started to do these things, and the patient, after telling them to stop and being ignored, tried to fight them off of her. They actively fought her back.

Although I can clearly see how that would be horrifying, the idea of a patient and nurse in combat does not bother me as much as the women who surrender their bodies or the apathy of the ones who don't want to see their child. I understand that these behaviors are a result of extreme trauma, and I don't fault the women for them at all. And yet, there is a beautiful vitality in fighting for autonomy over your body, however much I wish it wasn't necessary.

According to the group member she made it to Banjul without further trouble and presumably had a successful delivery.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I met my namesake today. She has the cutest baby in the world. And people use that as a compliment a lot, so I'd like to reemphasize it. She literally has the cutest baby I have ever seen. I thought she was 26, but apparently she's 18, three months younger than me. She is married to a 30 year old but no one has seen him so I don't think he's very involved. When she told us she was 18, we all expressed our shock, and she smiled a little and said, "Why, because I have a baby?" Which surprised us just as much because that's not what we were thinking at all. She just seems too mature to be 18. So if I'm named after her, that means I get to have a baby as sweet as hers, right? I mean it's only fair.

Not Just Another White Person

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

At our group meeting the other day, our group leader emphasized the importance of integrating with the community. She said it in the context of spending less time on the Internet, which I disliked because I'm more than a week behind in blog posts as it is, but in any case it's an important goal. So yesterday another group member and I went to join some kids who were playing soccer in the street. Two girls that I had befriended earlier, around six and eight years old, joined us and brought two of their friends, (around four and five years old). The girls were much younger than the boys that were playing so I tried to alternate between chasing the ball and playing with them on the side. I made sure that they got a chance to kick the ball now and then.

An older girl (10) came over to scold the girls I was playing with for running after the ball like the boys. I kept playing with them and passed her the ball. She ignored it. I passed it to her again, and praised her enthusiastically when she kicked it. A half hour later she had tied up her skirt and was chasing the ball as energetically as the other kids, and encouraging the younger girls to play with her.

As we left the lodge this morning to walk to the hospital, the older girl came out and greeted me by name with a huge smile on her face. If someone was that happy to see me every morning I'd pretty much be content. The whole way to work, children ran out of their homes, and instead of yelling, "Tubab!" they called to us by name and asked if we would be back to play with them that night.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Work in he eye unit was slow today, so I went over to maternity. There were a number of babies in bins and I asked my group leader if I could hold one. She asked me to wait and picked which babies I could help with, I think based on which were most likely to make it. That woman is my guardian angel. Today was rough though and even the baby she chose for me was fading by the time we left. I miss being in a place where love could be unreserved.

Eye Unit

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I worked in the eye unit today, but work was pretty slow. One of the nurses showed me how to do a vision test. She also tried to show me how take my own blood pressure, but I couldn't get a pulse. She said it's because her equipment is old but I'm pretty sure I'm just a zombie. Also a guy came in who'd been in a fistfight so I got to see how sutures are done.

Gender Roles

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the men who work at the lodge has been trying to persuade a group member to marry him. Hoping for an easy out, she asked, "Isn't it bad for a Muslim to marry a Christian?"

"A Muslim woman can't marry a Christian," he said, "But a man can, because he has the power in the family. He makes the woman Muslim."

So far she is not convinced.

The people here are more open to talking about their culture than I had expected. At some point we happened upon the subject of premarital sex. "The men can," a man from the lodge told us, "But the women don't. So if a man is engaged and wants to have sex, he must do it with a lower class woman." Shocked, we asked how his fiancée would feel about this. "The women are fine with it," he told us, "They even encourage it." The only way I can wrap my head around this is realizing that sex for many people here is not seen as an emotional act or as an expression of affection. It is a path toward procreation and physical satisfaction for men, exclusively. At least in the most traditional families here, the emotional aspect and women's sexuality are not acknowledged, even by the women themselves.

When I first came here, I was shocked by the number of women who were pregnant. In some of the tribal languages, 'pregnant' and 'woman' are the same word. I expected to feel saddened by the very young women in the maternity ward, but instead they are the most heartening, because they represent a change toward the kind of relationship I am more familiar with. I think I mentioned that men are not allowed in the labor room. What I didn't say is that usually they don't even wait outside. They drop the women off at the front of the hospital and come back for them in a few hours. Only the young men stay. When I first arrived, there was a very young woman in the recovery room with her husband, who was anxiously caring for her, massaging her and telling her how wonderfully she had done.

We were talking with some of the women at the lodge yesterday, and one of the younger women told us that she wants to find a husband who will love her enough to wait for her in the maternity ward and care for her when she's done.

Her mom started tearing up and had to leave the room. Whenever I'm working in the maternity ward I find myself remembering those young couples to remind myself that gender roles can change.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

As I was leaving maternity, I passed a bin with a bundle in it that looked like a baby. "Aww, and who's this little guy?" I asked.

"This one?" the head of the maternity ward said, moving toward it, "This one is the dead baby. Do you want to see?"

No, no I don't want to see.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I wondered why it was taking me so long to remember everyone's names in maternity, and today reached a breakthrough. They all wear wigs! And they trade them, sometimes multiple times a day, just to mess with us. No wonder!

Maternity Day 2

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

RCH wasn't doing anything this morning, so I switched over to maternity for a few hours. A baby had just been born and I held it for a while. She was clearly very hungry. She tried to suck on anything that came near her face and cried when she couldn't get milk from it. Her mom showed no interest in her. She didn't watch her baby when I carried her past and waved me off when I tried to hand it to her. The baby tried to turn toward my chest, and I hated that I couldn't feed her and was angry that the only person who could showed more interest in the wall.

In the mean time, a woman came in and sat down on a table. One of the nurses asked her if she had pushed and she shook her head. She leaned back, gave one push, and -presto!- baby. She sat back up and started eating a sandwich.